Ronald Brautigam / Kölner Akademie / Michael Alexander Willens

Mendelssohn: Piano Concertos

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Mendelssohn's piano concertos are not the standard repertory works they were in the 19th century, when they seemed to display the capabilities of the new instrument in an accessible way. But there are various recordings, with both historical and modern pianos and orchestral instruments. This one comes from veteran Dutch fortepianist Ronald Brautigam, who has recorded Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words nicely in the past. Here he takes on a variety of the composer's concerted works, and that's one strong point: the Rondo Brillant in E flat major for piano and orchesra, Op. 29, Capriccio Brillant in B minor, Op. 22, and Serenade and Allegro Giojoso, Op. 43, are not commonly played, and Brautigam's piano, a replica of a Pleyel instrument of 1830 by Americo-Czech builder Paul McNulty, gives a real feel for what Mendelssohn's audiences heard and why he was so popular: the works are brilliant, melodic, and natural under his fingers. In the concertos, Brautigam is strongest in the slow movements, which are close to the melodic idiom of the Songs Without Words; in the outer movements, the fortepiano doesn't quite stand up to the vibrato-free strings of Die Kölner Akademie under Michael Alexander Willens, and you might wish for a more powerful instrument. Your mileage may vary, however, and most will find this a worthwhile addition to the Mendelssohn discography.

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